Sunday, February 19, 2012

57. ON VAMPYRES AND OTHER SYMPTOMS (2011)

This feature-length film about Spanish filmmaker José Ramón Larraz (aka Joseph Larrath) is not precisely a documentary. Though it is actually the work of another filmmaker, Celia Novis, it feels closer to the realm of autobiographical essay. As such, it is illuminating as little of real use has yet been written about Larraz in English.

Now in his early 80s, Larraz has made nearly 30 films in a variety of different genres, primarily horror and erotica, but only a few of these are represented or even mentioned (specifically WHIRLPOOL, SYMPTOMS and VAMPYRES); Novis makes no attempt to tell his whole story or to come to editorial grips with his entire achievement. Instead, she poetically weaves together a free-form portrait of the artist -- as he is today, as a boy, as someone who began to make films in middle age (he made WHIRLPOOL at 41), as an artist who has, and continues to, also express himself in other media -- from original footage and sound bytes, combined with cleverly adapted autobiographic comics stories written and drawn by Larraz himself. The latter proves a point made by Josef von Sternberg, a pivotal meeting in Larraz' thirties, that he was already a film director before shooting any film because he had trained himself in the comics medium.

We see Larraz working at home, still using a typewriter, walking around and visiting a cemetery. He talks about the writers who most influenced him, about the house he shared for many years with a wife whose name we never learn, about the feelings of guilt that manifest to him at night in the faces of various unnamed lloronas from his love life to whom he now wishes he'd been kinder. He also remarks on the obscenity of growing old, which he says removes one from the ongoing film of life, which becomes a kind of living death when you realize there are no days ahead likely to bring you another kiss on the lips.

This one remark seems to hover above the rest, so it's a pleasure to see Larraz honored with a lifetime achievement award at the 2009 Sitges Film Festival, which is presented to him by the stars of his greatest success VAMPYRES (1974) Marianne Morris and Anulka (Dziubinska), whom he exclaims he never expected to see again in this life -- and an even greater pleasure when Anulka leans over, as camera flashes capture the moment, to kiss her director on the mouth.

Viewed on DVD-R, courtesy of the director. More details are available at the film's website.  

2 comments:

  1. Still trying to get to see his WHIRLPOOL from the late 60's early 70's too.

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